What is the best travel advice you ever received?

I am so loving the thread on "Travel nerves." Such helpful and kind advice for the OP. I thought this might be an interesting question to pose to the forum.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7382 posts

Take twice as much money, half as much stuff.

Posted by Darcy
Lewiston, Idaho, USA
1549 posts

I'll second Lo's comment: be flexible and adaptable!

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2905 posts

Plan well but be flexible; pack light; go with an open mind and heart; don't sweat the small stuff. Do these and you'll have fun!

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
11083 posts

Take advantage of every opportunity you get.

Posted by Diane
1400 posts

Maybe not the "best" piece of advice, but my favorite:

Look straight to the strawberry flavour of gelato. If you can see the specks from the strawberry seeds, you are seeing real homemade gelato in front of you. The other flavours should be of equally high quality.
If you see a uniform pink colour, then the gelato is made commercially with flavour essences.
Pistachio is also a good test - it shouldn't be bright green.

Don't be shy: smile, break the ice, take the time to chat with people around you. Ask questions.
Be interested and enjoy being there.

Make sure that your itinerary has an empty half-day built into most destinations. Your time is precious, so build in extra time as an investment in the moment - the 'wiggle room' to seize opportunities, make chance discoveries, catch up.

Posted by Sarah
St. Louis, MO USA
1841 posts

Roll with the punches. Expect to get lost, frustrated, and tired, possibly all 3 in a day. Expect to have at least one argument with your companion(s). Nothing exposes people's true character, for better or worse, like travel. Expect to butcher attempts at speaking a foreign language but speak it anyway.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
922 posts

Learn at least the polite phrases in the language(s) of the place(s) you are visiting. Please, Thank You, Hello, Good Bye. And use them. A little manners goes a long way.

Good stuff here!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
6611 posts

The first true travel advice I got was similar to Zoe's. Figure out what you need for your trip. If you have to carry it, halve it. If you don't, double it. It was a week-long camping trip through the Sinai desert. We never actually had to carry our backpacks and stuff. It was loaded on the bus every morning and unloaded every evening. After three days, most of us were out of clean clothes and trying to figure out how to wash things with very limited water supplies and no extra soap, then how to dry them. One fellow had a fresh change of clothes every morning and every evening after the day's hiking, slept in pajamas and a sheet inside his sleeping bag, and gave us that advice. The first night we laughed at him . . . . .

The second was several years later, from a woman who traveled solo a lot. She said whenever you feel the need for company, just look around for someone else who's alone and strike up a conversation. Worked like a charm - even when it turned out the the person wasn't solo. Then I discovered on my own that couples are often more eager to talk to someone - perhaps anyone - else after a week or two of the 24/7 togetherness of travel.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
3136 posts

Don't wait for 'the right time' to travel. Seize the moment and do it NOW. You never know what might come up in the future to prevent travel then, so DO IT NOW!

Pack light, flexible and comfortable- that goes for clothes and attitude.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
1350 posts

When things turn out differently than you expected, think about the great story it will make. Like the time I mis-translated "huitres" on a Paris menu and got oysters instead of eggs (well, my Spanish was better than my French and it LOOKED like "huevos")
Keep laughing and enjoy that you are in Europe and not sitting at home.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
755 posts

"Don't expect things to be the same as they are at home". One of the reasons I travel is to experience different cultures. I heard a traveler complain (loudly) that he wanted a steak and baked potato served just like they do back home in NYC. Things are not the same in Europe as they are at home. Go with the flow. Embrace the differences. "Pack light" is always good advice too!

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
1063 posts

To quote someone (Beecham or Bax?):

Try everything once, except incest and folk dancing.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8735 posts

I was once bemoaning the fact that I had no one to go with to some event, and a friend said, "If I didn't go someplace just because I had no one to go with, I would never go anywhere. Just take yourself!" A number of solo travels have resulted.

Look for unusual opportunities. I have done a week each of the past two years as a Vaughantown "Anglo", a program to help Spanish executives and professionals improve their English fluency. Through the program, I have met Spaniards from all over Spain, and Anglos from all over the world. Through this association, I can now call on my growing network of "local guides" to show me around wherever I am. This year, that included attending a wedding reception in Scotland (traveling with another Anglo from England), and spending four days in Barcelona with a Spaniard and his family.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14150 posts

We will see that the next time.
Have a completely unplanned day every four days or the fifth day should always be unplanned.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2396 posts

It is always better to travel alone in peace than go with a group with a bad vibe where one or more people are not really wanting to travel in the same way.

Travelling together can put even the best friendships to the test.

Time is a valuable resource when planning itineraries and searching for bargains in transportation, lodging etc.

Make the pre-planning of trips at home enjoyable, a part of the process of travelling instead of a chore you want to get rid of ASAP.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

I'm going to sound like a sycophant here, but nobody else in my family or circle of friends travels enough to be doling out travel advice. So I got my best advice from Rick Steves, which was to travel light and low to the ground - meaning traveling simply, probably less expensively than average, and enjoying the simple pleasures available to you in another country instead of paying to be pampered or entertained like a it's a carnival ride. Some of our best days in Europe were spent doing things that were free or nearly free.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
14175 posts

The first two pieces of advice that I think of immediately came from Rick.

  1. You have to find your own back doors: I've found some great places to stay that most people have never heard of.

  2. Pack light and carry on: Saved my butt my second carry-on trip to Europe, when my connecting flight in the US was delayed due to weather, and they met the plane at the gate with a van, and ferried 13 of us to the international terminal and our flight. I'm sure check bags never made the connection - the last on that day - and four hours after landing in Frankfurt I was hundred of km from any airport.

Last one I learned long before I heard it from Rick, but it is still his advice. In my words, "If you stay in small, family run B&Bs, vs expensive tourist hotels, you will have a more culturally rich experience, and spend less to boot."

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
1062 posts

From my father, who was in his '80s at the time as his health was beginning to fail:
Something along the lines of: Go while you still can, while you are young enough and healthy enough.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14150 posts

I agree with Roy. We figured that out pretty quick when parents on both sides died in their sixties with great travel plans unfullfilled. Make our first trip when we were thirty and wish we had started earlier.

Posted by Kristen
620 posts

Just book the trip. No one ever looked back at their life and said "Gee, I wish I wouldn't have travelled so much".

Don't bring anything with you that, if you lost it or left in your hotel, would break your heart. For me, this mostly applies to favorite pieces of jewelry or watches or, in some cases, a few favorite clothing pieces that are a few seasons old and not easily replaceable.

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
829 posts

Love this thread…

Expect to have at least one argument with your companion(s)

My husband I recently returned from a 12 day vacation in Costa Rica. 5 days into our vacation, I was so irritated at my husband for remarks like “I like the Pacific side better for sunsets” even though we were on a beautiful beach on the Caribbean. “It’s too hot at night and there’s no breeze”, even though we were on a beautiful beach on the Caribbean”, “The monkeys woke me up last night”, even though wild Howler monkeys lived on the property. You get the point. Finally I got mad and told him that if he didn’t like how I planned vacations, he could either participate more in the planning or stay home. He then agreed that his comments were kind of ridiculous!

So my advice to my husband was to look at every trip as a new experience and adventure, and not compare to previous trips. (Not every vacation can be like Italy)

The best advice from Rick Steves: "Travel is intensified living- maximized thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It's recess, and we need it."
I think that is why many of us travel to foreign countries and to Europe. We've traveled much of the US and it's just not as adventurous as overseas (language, customs, trains, food, people, etc)

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1620 posts

Remember to take time to smell the roses.

Posted by Mike
Gilbert, AZ
71 posts

Best advice, spend the nights in B&B's and enjoy the local culture. Ask the locals where to go and eat, they know the best places. Don't only go by guide books.

Another piece of advice - On my first trip to Santorini I found a great piece of artwork but thought the price was too high. On a return trip 2 years later the piece was still there. Still undecided a fellow traveler came along and stated the obvious, you love it, it’s only money and you may not come back.

Don’t be cheap, if you like it and can afford it, buy it. You may not be back there again. Thankfully I was back. Now if we like it, we purchase it the first time we are there.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

"Whatever it is you want to do, do it now. Pack light, be patient, have an open mind, keep a sense of humor and remain calm when things go awry. (Advice from my grandparents who visited 48 out of 50 states in America. They always made two purchases. One was a Statehood sticker that was proudly displayed on their car. The second purchase was a dinner plate displayed along the dining room walls and used for family gatherings.) Today, all their grandkids and great-grand kids have a plate!

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
389 posts
  1. SLOW DOWN. Take the time to "see" and enjoy.
  2. On 8+ hour International flights-fly business or first. Arrive rested and at peace with the world...start the trip off on a positive note.
Posted by James E.
4500 posts

Mike, Diane; thank you for your comments. Hope you don’t mind but I stole from them to help me in my thought process.
“spend the nights in B&B's and enjoy the local culture,” yes, but I would broaden it out by saying that when you plan your trip look for ways to enter into the local culture so you can have that unique experience. A B&B might be one way, but better if it is in a location that promotes the concept. I am not a real social guy and I feel uncomfortable as a personal guest. B&B’s just don’t work for me. But that’s my personal issue. An apartment in a typical neighborhood gets me the same result.

“ask the locals where to go and eat,” absolutely. But, remember at the same time that you are a tourist and there are some tourist kitsch sort of places, and some highbrow sorts of places that are great once in a life time experiences. Don’t be ashamed. You travel for ALL experiences.

“you love it, it’s only money and you may not come back.” G-d yes! You spent $1,200.00 for a plane ticket and another $2,000 for B&B rooms (or whatever), and you are worried about $100 for a rubber Gombot? Go for it!

“Whatever it is you want to do, do it now” My parents waited too long and …. Well I won’t make that mistake. I agree 100%. Besides, what you learn makes you a better citizen here in the U.S. I firmly believe that the education that travel affords colors your decision making and politics for life.

“Pack Light”, well that’s the one I have the biggest issue with. I say plan well and pack appropriately. More often than not this may mean light, but not always. One trip might be a tour of three opera houses performances in three cities in the dead of winter. Packing light really isn’t an option. Another trip is a fishing expedition through the mountains of an “emerging” country. Well the clothing packed light, but the fishing gear didn’t. Then the two week summer trip to Hungary and Slovakia; a carry-on each does just fine.

“be patient, have an open mind, keep a sense of humor and remain calm when things go awry,” this is what distinguishes people of character and I like to think that people of character represent the US when they travel. Besides most tragedies can be turned into exciting adventures with just a tiny bit of effort. As for being Open Minded, that is something that is all too often forgotten. It isn’t going to be the US when you get there; It will be different. Compare and try and understand what made it different and why and how and learn from it. Everything is an experience and almost all experiences make us better. Which brings me to the last topic.

The Experience: the Back Door experience the way I see it is an attitude that there is a broader opportunity for experience than many travelers take advantage of. Remember all experiences are positive learning and life changing events. There is no formula, actually it is something where a formula doesn’t work. Don’t travel light travel appropriately. Don’t stay in a B&B, stay in a location that will give you a unique experience that you can enjoy and learn from. I suggest the Budapest Four Seasons for $800 a night and I also suggest a $50 a night apartment in Budapest as well as little Hostel in Veliko Tarnovo (name escapes me right now) and the Fuller House rooms above a pub in London. I can get you a memorable $15 dinner in Budapest and I think you are nuts if you have the resources and you skip Dance Night in the restaurant in the Ritz in London. They are all legitimate experiences.

Continued on next (sorry webmaster)

Posted by James E.
4500 posts

For those of you who haven’t noticed I feel most comfortable talking about Budapest. Rick runs some pretty nice tours that go through Budapest. I know the hotels he uses and well, well they are by and large for the most part tourist hotels. How dare he!!!! I also know that the entire feeling of a RS tour is to stay the heck out of the hotel and walk up the back streets. That’s what make the tours, at least the Budapest part of the tour, so special.

It took me a while to figure this out but people in Europe are ………………. PEOPLE! Not much different in morality or kindness of heart than are Texans. So, the trick is to believe that, walk the streets like you would in a good neighborhood in the US. Ask questions, get lost, ask directions, say please, excuse me and thank you. Smile (ignore the negative comments about American’s smiling), ask the waiter’s name and say thank you using his name. It’s just like being at home; then instantly you are in the culture. I give attitude 10 times more power for entering the culture and gaining great experiences than I do where you stay or how light you pack.

You have to spend the time to do this and that’s risky. Plan 3 days in a city like Budapest and you will have time to experience and see the mainstream attractions. They are mainstream attractions because they are that good and should not be missed. WAIT, and the back door experience? There really isn’t a lot of time left for that, some yes, but not really enough to understand the place. If you really want to do it right it will take you a minimum of six day. Here is the RISK, what if you don’t like it? That is perfectly legitimate not to enjoy a place so then you are stuck for a week in misery? Always have a Plan B. Schedule a week in a place like Budapest but do the research and be prepared to head to Vienna for the second half of the week. In our case it was the other way around and we “discovered” Budapest while escaping Vienna.

And finally, one last word from my soap box. I work my way into a culture the best that I can but I still always maintain an attitude that I am a guest in their country. As such I don’t think of what I can get away with but what I have to do to ensure that I am very well received as a guest.

These are just my opinions. I don’t begrudge anyone that disagrees.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2320 posts

My first trip to Europe was a RS tour, a 21 day "Best of Europe" one. We went so many places so fast I was getting irritated that I wasn't getting to spend enough time in each place we stopped to really get immersed in the place. And then the guide said "Just expect to return here some day". I have returned for the last 10 years soon to be 11.

Posted by James E.
4500 posts

I would imagine that It's a tough balance between the philosophy and offering something that will sell.

Posted by Jean
926 posts

I received some advice from one of our RS tour guides that opened my mind - "You're so comfortable with this that you could go travel on your own now." That thought changed my ideas of travel to Europe, and I've planned all of our itineraries since. We've had fantastic trips and enjoyed ourselves immensely, and those experiences have been very special to us as a couple.

Of course, the RS philosophy of travel has been beneficial - travel light which I define as 1 carry-on & nothing in the other hand (easy to board trains). I haven't checked a piece of luggage in 10 years, even for business trips.

I've also learned to be very gracious & thankful to people in places we travel, knowing that they're dealing with all types of tourists.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4633 posts

I'm going to veer off here to some very practical advice.

Travel in the morning....This is advice I got from an American Airlines Admiral's Club staff member. For the third time in a row, my trip home from NYC to Madison, WI had been delayed by thunder storms. I was always leaving late in the day after putting in a full day at work. She convinced me that it's better to spend the night in NYC and catch the first flight out in the AM. You beat the weather, the plane is on site and not coming from somewhere else--in short, you have a better chance of getting to your destination.

A corollary to the Always travel in the early AM law, is to always take an option to get closer to your final destination. I often found that I was traveling with multiple legs. I found that if I was offered a chance to get to intermediate destination sooner, then I would be wise to take it. The worst that would happen would be a wait at the intermediate destination rather than my starting point. The best thing that could happen, would be an early arrival at my primary destination.

I actually think that this advice applies whether you're flying, driving, walking or asking Scottie to Beam you Up. You can rarely go wrong with an early arrival.


Posted by James E.
4500 posts

Pam, excellent! Add to that realistic layover times and leverging stops along the way by making them part of your vacation trip.

Posted by stan
Kansas City
1217 posts

"Don't spend your trip looking through a camera lens." That is, enjoy being there without constantly looking for good photo ops.

Posted by George
Independence, KS, USA
810 posts

Learn basic phrases of the local language and speak it with a smile. Turn off the electronics, savor your surroundings, and enjoy those you are with.

Posted by MC-Glasgow
Glasgow, Scotland
827 posts

Jump in, be prepared to look silly as long as you're friendly. And learn what the local licence plates look like. If that restaurant has a car park of local cars outside it is less likely to be a tourist trap.

Posted by Cary
Hayden, Idaho, USA
128 posts

Lots of great thoughts and opinions as I anticipated when I opened this thread. My only addition would be to take some "alone time" whether you're with a spouse, partner or friends. An hour or two shopping, sitting outside and reading or people watching ( preferably with a glass of wine), walking along a beach or in a park, grabbing a quick 20 min nap at your lodging if the other(s) are out, going to a laundromat by yourself (great for catching up in a journal or book)---------anything that will break up the 24/7 time that can become cloying even though you chose to travel with these companion(s).

Posted by Jeff
333 posts

No advice is good advice in some circumstances and without the internet, I saved my money and flew around the world in about 30 days back in 1982. Had one or two Lonely Planet Guides for that journey and that is about it. It may sound hedonistic but if it feels good go do it and things might just work out ok.

Posted by Jaime
20 posts

Several things that have already been mentioned:

Pack light (and use some logic in doing so).
Learn the essentials in the local language: excuse me, please, and thank you.
Take at least one day off per week to do nothing but sit around and hang out.
Don't sweat the petty interruptions to your plans. Take a deep breath, go with the flow, and think of it as taking the scenic route, so to speak.
Eat where you see the locals lining up.

Posted by Karen
508 posts

Great thread! Packing light and carry on only was a big one for me. It made getting from place to place so much easier. Other than that, just to keep a sense of humor, expect some things to go wrong, see the adventure in things when they do go wrong, and celebrate the differences. Someone mentioned taking some alone time-that is so important for me when traveling with others. It can really help with still being friends with my travel companions once the trip is over!

Posted by selkie
301 posts

Travel doesn't change your fundamental personality; it amplifies it. Be honest with yourself about what you like and what makes you miserable and know that's probably not going to change when you're somewhere else. I'm an introvert but not a misanthropic one; have ended up having really good talks with strangers when we're all waiting in the same line, but I don't want to have to try to befriend the B&B innkeeper on the way back to my room. And a hostel dorm room with strangers is my idea of hell because I can never have some alone space to decompress and reboot. (I've also reached the point where I just want an ensuite bath wherever I go because I strongly prefer that kind of privacy)

Go to the grocery store- not just for the picnics that RS recommends while you're there but for interesting things to bring back for you and friends. As long as you're not bringing back raw fruit/vegetable or certain types of meat or cheeses, Customs is generally cool with it. (One thing in favor of checking a bag on the way home is that you can bring home some nice olive oil, vinegar, wine, jam, etc. and not deal with the TSA security theater rules about liquids in the cabin)

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2801 posts

Respect the differences you'll discover and enjoy the commonality.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
711 posts

"Unexpected travel plans are dancing lessons from God"

Posted by Deb
Sioux Falls, SD
120 posts

Never pass up a bathroom.

If you really, really want it; go ahead and buy it, because later on the trip you will never see it again.

Posted by Brendon
Auburn, Washington, USA
514 posts

Become a temporary local and understand other countries way of living and customs.

Posted by Steve
119 posts

Don't worry about the things you aren't able to visit in a given location, enjoy what you are seeing instead.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3399 posts

The more you smile, the nicer people are going to be to you--even in Paris.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
1350 posts

Always carry enough change for the pay toilet. And take advantage of free toilets in museums and restaurants. (As Mother used to say, "go before you go.")